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Oil Spill

How many barrels of oil were spilled in BP’s Gulf well? Judge must decide

Posted Jun 28, 2013 2:42 PM CDT
By Terry Carter

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The federal judge presiding overseeing the civil bench trial concerning the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is now faced with a problem almost as daunting as the cleanup: He must decide how much crude oil flowed into the sea during the 86 days before the well was finally capped.

“From what I’m hearing talking to counsel, that is not an easy task to calculate that,” U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said from the bench during a status conference Thursday, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “First of all, there’s no meter on that well.”

Barbier is dealing with dueling experts. One is from BP, whose well spewed the oil, and others are speaking on behalf of the federal government, which seeks monetary penalties under the Clean Water Act. The stakes are high: companies at fault can be fined up to $1,100 per barrel if they were negligent, or up to $4,300 per barrel if they were grossly negligent or engaged in willful misconduct.

BP’s expert, a petroleum engineering professor at London’s Imperial College, says the well spilled 3.26 million barrels. Government experts set it at about 5 million. The judge’s decision in this bench trial could mean as much as $7 billion, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

BP’s partners in the oil venture and co-defendants are Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton. Barbier presided over the initial phase of their trial, concerning liability, which concluded in April. The ruling could come as late as next year.

The Times-Picayune reported that Judge Barbier told the parties Thursday that the second phase of the trial, set to begin Sept. 16, could be split into two parts, concerning two issues: what BP and its partners did to try to stop the release of oil and gas after the well blew, and whether they were prepared for it; and how much oil was released.

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